Scientists have discovered that sharks on Australia’s east coast display a mysterious tendency to interbreed, challenging several accepted scientific theories regarding shark behaviour.
The Australian black tip shark (Carcharhinus tilstoni) and the common black tip shark (C. limbatus) have overlapping distributions along the northern and eastern Australian coastline.
Using both genetic testing and body measurements, 57 hybrid animals were identified from five locations, spanning 2000km from northern NSW to far northern Queensland. Although closely related, the two species grow to different maximum sizes and are genetically distinct.
Dr Jennifer Ovenden, an expert in genetics of fisheries species and a member of the scientific team said this was the first discovery of sharks hybridising and it flagged a warning that other closely related shark and ray species around the world may be doing the same thing.
“Wild hybrids are usually hard to find, so detecting hybrids and their offspring is extraordinary,” Dr Ovenden said.
“To find 57 hybrids along 2000km of coastline is unprecedented.
“Hybridisation could enable the sharks to adapt to environmental change as the smaller Australian black tip currently favours tropical waters in the north.
“While the larger common black tip is more abundant in sub-tropical and temperate waters along the south-eastern Australian coastline.”